‘Inside the Church… it was a quiet respectful affair’ - Priest who officiated for David Byrne defends lavish gangland funeral
Published 16/02/2016 | 11:40
The priest who officiated at the lavish funeral of murder victim David Byrne (35) says the family’s grief “was as raw as anything” he had ever seen.
Fr Niall Coughlan, parish priest of nearby Meath Street, gave the sermon at the funeral of Byrne, who was shot dead during a boxing weigh-in at the Regency Hotel in the north of the city on February 5 by a six-strong gang armed with assault rifles and handguns.
Much has been made about the cost of the funeral, which saw at least ten stretch Mercedes limousines used to ferry mourners from the church to the cemetery, and it has been suggested it could have cost upwards of €100,000.
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Speaking about the lavish display, Fr Coughlan said he was “not responsible for how people conduct their funerals.”
“There are no hard and fast rules about what is allowed,” he told RTÉ’s Liveline.
“I honestly wasn’t even aware of the extent of it until I got to the graveyard.
“There wasn’t any kind of that display in the Church… it was a quiet, respectful affair.”
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Asked by host Joe Duffy if he had questioned who had paid the cost of the service, Fr Coughlan said he “hadn’t given it a thought.”
“I was there to attend to the job at hand… I don’t want to comment on that sort of stuff.”
He added: “I went to say the prayers as I would for any family.”
Declining to comment when asked if Byrne’s family had sought to defend their son and his criminal activities, Fr Coughlan told host Joe that all he saw was a family left devastated by the loss of a loved one.
“Their grief was as raw as any I’ve seen in 23 years of being a priest. It was as real as anyone else’s.”
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Fr Coughlan said he was asked to officiate David Byrne’s funeral by his grandmother, who he described as a “lovely woman, who was very faithful to her church.”
“I buried two of her daughters… [and] when people are grieving they go back to the person they knew from the past.”
He continued, saying it had never entered his mind to decline the offer.
“I was conscious of the context the funeral but [for] every baptised Christian, no matter who they are, we have no choice but to conduct a funeral service for them… we place them in the mercy of God.
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Earlier today, Fr Coughlan outlined to RTE’s Sean O’Rourke how he told mourners at St Francis of Myra church on Francis Street in Dublin how it would take courage to end the gang violence in the city.
Fr Coughlan has come in for praise for the message he gave to the congregation, calling for a "hero" to appeal to both sides of the feud to come together peacefully.
“What I said was it doesn’t take courage to walk into a hotel or into someone’s home and blast a defenceless person to death.”
“What is courageous is someone willing to put their head above the parapet and call for an end to this despicable destruction of human life.”
He continued: “What I did say also was they might be a lonely voice in their own little world but for the people of south and north inner city Dublin who’ve greatly suffered at their hands, and not just by the recent violence either, but by the drug scourge that has been in this city.
“These wonderful people, and they really are wonderful people in our inner city, if this person would only raise their head above the parapet, they would be the hero. That would take courage but it doesn’t take courage to blast a person to death.”
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Fr Coughlan said he drew inspiration from a poem written about Northern Ireland’s Troubles for his sermon.
“I had to sit down and try and think ‘what do you say here’. I talked to my colleagues, I got advice, I talked to my community about it. I got advice from them.”
“I was very much inspired by a poem by one of my Augustinians Padraig Daly who’s a poet. One of his poems about Northern Ireland was in the shooting of a soldier, he said ‘they decided not to look’. That was at the end of his poem he says ‘they decided not to look.
“That was my inspiration. If somebody looks at a person and really sees them for what they are it’s impossible to kill anybody.”
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Fr Coughlan said the violence of the last few days has effectively held the city to ransom, and he commended the Gardaí for protecting the city yesterday.
“Schools had to close down, the city was held to ransom.
“They weren’t just there to protect the integrity of the funeral, they were there to protecting the city and I think they did a wonderful job.
“I know the Archbishop has offered to mediate [in a process involving Gardaí], I’m sure if I was asked to mediate I would… I don’t think there’s anybody with a profile in the city who wouldn’t like to see an end to this.”